I got an email recently from a mama looking for advice on how to manage the challenges of being a work-at-home mom. I believe folks who like acronyms call this being a “WAHM” (I’m not a fan of the acronymification of women’s communications online, but to each her own), and I’ve been doing it for the last six months. And you know what? IT’S REALLY HARD. You must become a ninja of productivity and time management to make it work.
Every work at home mother’s situation and experience will be different, but here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:
Compartmentalize your tasks
The biggest new skill I’ve had to acquire is working in short bursts. Since I mostly work during my infant son’s naps or during the rare moments when he’s contented to play by himself, I’ve had to learn to break much of my work into tiny, interrupt-able bite-sized chunks. For my work, that means keeping up with emails and content management during the short naps, and saving my bigger-picture work and writing projects for scheduled longer blocks of time, ie after my son’s gone to bed for the night OR on my weekly offsite workday.
Get out of the house
The best thing I’ve done for my career as a self-employed mom is getting a membership at a local coworking space called Office Nomads, so I can go work away from home one day a week. Coworking is the increasingly popular practice of sharing an office with other freelancers and work-at-home types. They’re popping up all over the world, and having one day a week where I’m out of the house and getting a day of solidly focused uninterrupted time is the BEST thing I’ve done for my new career. It’s just critical (at least for my sanity) to get “dressed up” (aka more than dance pants and a hoody) and be out in the world interfacing with adults, even if it’s just one day a week.
In terms of getting out of the house, coworking is extra awesome, but a cafe can work too. And obviously, this only works if you have family or other childcare available, but seriously IT IS SO WORTH IT even if you have to pay for daycare. I can get a week’s worth of work done in that one solid 8-hour chunk.
It’s amazing how much work I can get done in my one 8-hour office day. In my past, I’ve had corporate jobs where stretching 30 minutes of work over the course of an 8-hour day became a delicately honed science; slacking as performance art. Cuz when I’m focused, I work REALLY FAST. So I would spend most of my days unfocused. But when you only have a 30-minute nap to get something done, you learn to stop fucking around with Facebook (“Oh this? I’m doing social media marketing research!” HA HA WHATEVER!) and hammer your tasks until they’re bloodied messes on the concrete. And still have time to wipe it up and make yourself a cup of tea before naptime ends.
Learn more: There are endless productively resources available online, but I’ve known many people who’ve loved the Getting Things Done method.
Prioritize like a fiend
This is a big-picture productivity skill. Make sure you know which tasks (both work and home) need to get done, and when they need to get done. Become a zen master of prioritization. Break down your work and sort it. Eliminate the noise and work your way through your lists in order. Don’t do the easy stuff first. That’s something I used to get to do as a corporate slacker — I don’t have that luxury when I’m working for myself from home. You have to know what you need to do, and when it needs to be done. And then you have to just do it.
Don’t multitask (aka, Don’t ignore the baby)
My worst moments as a mother working at home are when I get torn between the two worlds of working and parenting. I’m in the groove with something I’m working on, and then I hear the baby wake up and then, just a minute! I hear you, Tavi! I’ll be there in a second! as the baby’s fussing becomes crying. Or, as I’m sitting on the couch playing with the baby, I hear an email come in and glance at my phone and oh, it’s an important advertiser I need to talk to and you’re ok here for a second, right Tavi? Mama’ s just going to write a super fast email, and then the laptop opens and the next thing I know the baby has face-planted on the couch cushion with pinned a toy under his chin he’s wailing and I’m trying to hit send send send as fast as I can and the email is full of typos and Aww, baby, it’s ok, you’re ok.
I feel awful when I do this, because I’m not giving EITHER of my “clients” (the business or the baby) my full attention and they’re both suffering. I’ve had to make clear boundaries with myself that when the baby needs me, I will NOT try to multitask. It’s unfair to both my work and my family.
But like I said, I’ve only been doing this for six months and only know my situation (1 kid, web work, family in town, etc). I’d love to hear from those of you WAHMs (*cringe* GAH! Seriously, I hate loathe acronyms) who are making it work to work from home.
So, for those of you working from home: what are your tips?